I had a crappy day at work today. In my world crappy is usually defined by fighting a losing battle against an idea whose implementation is going to haunt me for months down the road. It’s not necessarily that I like to argue, although that thought has been mentioned once or twice. It’s just that I rail against rampant stupidity, especially when I have to pay the price for it.
In my youth, I was more likely to pick my battles, focusing on the ones that were either most important or winnable. As I’ve grown older and grumpier I tend to throw caution to the wind and just fight them all. Sometimes that’s just not a good idea. I leaned that lesson years ago on a long trip through West Virginia.
I had just started a new job in North Carolina, but my wife and kids were still living in Pennsylvania. That was pre-internet, so writing letters and telephone calls were the only ways to touch base. To stay sane, about once a month I’d take a long weekend and make the ten hour drive back home. On the trip in question, I was headed north on I-79 just before midnight on a clear night in June.
This was back when the speed limit on most interstate highways was still fifty-five which made the trip agonizingly slow. Being young, I was pushing the limit a bit, but I wasn’t being stupid about it which turned put to be a good thing. The highway was lonely that night so when headlights appeared in my rear view mirror it quickly caught my attention. Those headlights were making up the distance fast and within a couple of minutes they were knocking on my rear bumper.
As I crested a hill, three cars blew past me like I was standing still. I didn’t get a good look at the first two, but the third looked like a Firebird Trans Am circa 1982. About the same time I was making that observation, I noticed that all four of us had just passed a West Virginia State Trooper who had been nestled into a hollow on the berm (that’s the shoulder of the road for most of the folks reading this). His RADAR was out and that meant that someone’s night was going to end unfortunately. I’d never seen a trooper pull three cars over at the same time, so I was kind of excited at the prospect of being a silent observer to the spectacle.
Just after I was clear, I saw the cruiser’s headlights and blue lights come on. Seconds later I heard his siren. For most people, that would cut loose a rush of adrenaline but, since I knew I wasn’t his target, what it unleashed in me was a smile. He pulled out into the passing lane and, based on how fast he caught up to me, he must have kicked his cruiser in the ass from the get go. As the cruiser pulled even with my car, something strange happened; he slowed down. I looked out my side window and to my astonishment he was motioning me to pull over. If memory serves, I pointed to my chest with my finger and mouthed the word “Me?” I could tell by the look on his face that he wasn’t amused so, when he pointed to the berm again, I quickly complied and he pulled in behind me. The conversation went something like this:
“Sir, may I see your driver’s license, car registration and proof of insurance?”
After he took the documents he said, “Sir, do you know how fast you were going?”
“Not exactly officer, but I suspect it was somewhere around sixty-five.”
“Sixty-six sir, my RADAR clocked you at sixty-six. I’m going to go call this in. You sit right here until I get back.
He went back to his cruiser, called in my information and, after a few minutes, returned with a ticket for my signature. I looked it over, signed it and handed it back. He gave me my license and registration, tore off a carbon copy of the ticket for me and then started to walk away. That was when I did it. Maybe it was fatigue or maybe it was just the stupidity of youth. Whichever it was, I found myself saying:
“Officer, before you go, could I ask you a question?”
“There were three other cars that passed you the same time that I did. If I was going sixty-six, then they had to be going at least eighty. Why did you pull me over for speeding instead of them?”
“Sir you’re wrong. They weren’t going eighty; they were going eighty-seven miles per hour and I pulled you over instead of them because it’s twenty minutes ‘til the end of my shift and I figured that you’d be easier to catch. Is that going to be a problem for you?”
“No sir,” I replied. “I was just curious.”
Now I might have been able to fight that ticket and I might even have won. But the truth is that I had more important things to do than travel back to West Virginia to make my case in front of a judge just to avoid a fifty dollar fine. After all, I was actually speeding. Instead, I smiled at the officer, started my car and continued on towards home at the legal speed of fifty-five.
The moral of the story for you youngsters is that sometimes the cause is worth the fight and sometimes it isn’t. Somewhere along the way I’ve disavowed that truth. At my age, that’s not likely to change, but maybe I can save you.